Today, I finished purging my files and packing the seven orange crates that will move my professional life to our new office building. I have been thinking about packing as nuisance, not nostalgia, since this particular move has nothing to do with professional transition, just a building relocation for me and all my colleagues.
I was wrong.
I had purged several cabinets and was down to one more file drawer, occupied mostly by individual files for students I’ve worked with on various projects and at various times over the last seven years. Each doctoral student I’ve worked with on a directed research, independent study, or dissertation has her or his own file with notes from our meetings and other materials. I am in full out purging mode with this move, though, so I decided to pull all the graduates and only keep what was needed from their files. That was when I came to Robin.
“Robin-Dissertation” was written on the folder.
The file contained only two things. The first: a paper containing hand-written notes of our first meeting to hash out the possible methodological selections for her dissertation exploring interpersonal violence among women of color. I had a few characteristic scrawls of a conceptual model, a big line down the center exploring options along two possible methodological frameworks depending on her finalized questions.
The second item: the service program from her funeral.
Robin died very unexpectedly as she began the third year of her doctoral program. It was just shortly after this first meeting we had after she’d asked me to be on her dissertation committee and help her focus on methodological development. I had her as a student in class, and I was thrilled for the opportunity to work with her. She was smart, witty, and always managed to be able to laugh at herself and in doing so, find strength and resilience. She was the kind of person who was going to make a difference in the world in her research, her teaching, her passion and commitment to understanding why violence occurs and why it persists.
Her death was tragic to her family, her student colleagues, and her faculty colleagues. I know it was devastating to me because it caught me so off-guard. I had chuckled the day before when she wrote on her facebook wall, “It’s so tiring being fabulous…I think I’ll take a nap.” Afterwards, it seemed almost poetic and darkly ironic. And yet, it was quintessential Robin.
So, I am thinking about Robin today. I am not wondering if she would have graduated; I know she would have. I do wonder what she would think about what others have done as they remember her, though. She inspired clinicians, community members, colleagues…and she inspired me. I have been diligently studying women’s mental health for years and didn’t think to include interpersonal violence as one of the co-occurring life events. Now, the current research project that I direct integrates interpersonal violence wholeheartedly into screening and assessment, and I cannot imagine it being any other way. I thought of her when I was writing the grant to fund this project. I think of her still.
I kept Robin’s file in the crate to be moved to my new office, in case anyone was wondering. Loss is painful. But there is a small point of light today in the remembrance of a great spirit connecting with my own, inspiring intellectual curiosity. That light remains.
Remembering you today, Robin…
This is beautifully written. My only child died in January 2013 – Loss is painful.
Thank you so much for reading, and for commenting. I am so sorry to hear about your child’s death. Loss is indeed, painful. And, I know from my own life and work that the death of a child is unlike any other kind of loss. What has been amazing for me, over the course of my career working with those who are grieving, is that I see time and time again love and pain can, and do, coexist. Even amid pain, love remains and lights a fire in our spirit that can sustain us through the pain of loss. May that love and light touch you today in your corner of the world and bring you peace. Sarah